It was Tracey Neilson’s 21st birthday on the 5th of January, 1981. It was also the day she was brutally murdered.
Tracey Neilson lived with her husband, Jeffrey, in Oklahoma. The duo met while on a blind date when they were freshmen and hit it off immediately. “It was instant,” said her mother. “She was just so happy with him.” They married in August of 1980 and both started classes at the University of Oklahoma. Tracey focused on physical therapy and working with people who had disabilities while Jeffrey was an orthopaedic surgeon. “She was fun. She was crazy. She loved to cook. She was very busy, very much alive. She loved people,” recalled her mother.
On the afternoon of Tracey’s murder, Jeffrey had been at class in medical school before going shopping in Oklahoma City to find the perfect gift for his wife.
He settled on an expensive bottle of perfume before making his way to their apartment in Jamestown Square, in Moore, Oklahoma. When he arrived, he planned on cooking the two lobster tails he had purchased earlier for Tracey’s birthday treat. You only turn 21 once, after all, and he wanted to make her birthday as special as possible.
When he arrived home and walked into their bedroom, he was met by an unimaginable scene. Tracey was lying face up on their bed. She was wearing blue jeans and a plaid shirt. Her throat had been slashed and she had been stabbed multiple times above the waist.
Investigators started to trace her every move to determine what had happened. Tracey had started her morning off by running errands. Neighbours said they saw her completing chores at around noon time. When her loved ones called to wish her a happy birthday that afternoon, she didn’t answer.
It’s presumed she had already been murdered.
Two neighbours provided different descriptions of a man police say may possibly be the suspect. The first witness described the man she saw as being in his late 20s, about 5 feet 9 inches tall and 155 pounds with dark, curly brown hair with around a day’s growth of beard. The second witness described the man she saw as being in his early 30s, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, 150 to 170 pounds with short black hair worn in a military style with short sideburns. No man matching either description has ever been found. 1
There was no sign of a forced entry but the apartment door was unlocked. There was no sign of a struggle or a robbery and the murder weapon was never retrieved. A lone fingerprint which was described as “one of the best pieces of evidence” was found but it was never identified.
In the apartment, police also found a cable repair ticket book containing a ticket for work at Tracey’s apartment on the day of her murder. According to the ticket, cable repair work was scheduled for 11:51AM. It included an employee number and a scribble of initials.
Police checked all the utilities at the time to see if either a cable company or telephone company were scheduled to be at their apartment that day but to no avail. They said that the ticket book belonged to a repair worker with Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., now a subsidiary of AT&T. To this day, police still cannot track this anonymous person down but they hoped that releasing this information in 2015 could help jog someone’s memory. Presumably, somebody had stolen the cable repair ticket book and had used it to gain entry to homes.
Around the same time, police also revealed that a key ring was missing from Tracey’s apartment. It was a personalised key ring that was four inches long and around an inch wide. It was plastic and tortoise shell coloured and had Tracey’s name inscribed on the front of it. Police theorised that the killer took the key ring as a token to remember his gruesome crime.2
“This is a crucial piece of evidence for us in this case,” said OSBI Director Stan Florence. During the news conference in which this piece of evidence was released, police also announced that there was a $100,000 reward for any information about the case. “We ask anyone that has any information that would be helpful to come forward,” said Jeffrey. “We plead and we beg for that.”3
Years after the murder Jeffrey Neilson’s family helped OSBI convince state legislators to pass a law to fund the state’s first Automated Fingerprint Identification System which was able to scan a full database of fingerprints. Unfortunately, the fingerprint found in the apartment still hasn’t matched any fingerprint in the system. Nevertheless, the ground-breaking system has led to the apprehension of perpetrators of hundreds of violent crimes across Oklahoma.
Tracey’s family said she was killed at one of the happiest times of her short life. She married her high-school sweetheart and had recently started to work with people who as disabilities. “She just fell in love with it,” said her mother. It’s hard for her family to imagine her life and what it could have been. “You see a million dreams and you know they probably would have been true.” Jeffrey has always believed that his wife’s killing was a completely random act as opposed to her being specifically targeted by somebody she knew. “I don’t know where the rage came from,” he said.
Anybody with any information is asked to call the OSBI hotline at 1-800-522-8017.
- Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 12 January, 2015 – “Panhandle Woman’s Death on 21st Birthday Unsolved 34 Years Later”
- Times Record, 12 July, 2015 – “Oklahoma Officials Release Evidence in 34 Year Old Homicide”
- Amarillo Globe-News, 10 July, 2015 – “New Evidence Surfaces in Cold Case”